WASHINGTON COUNTY — The headlines lately have been filled with news of the work of Washington County social workers, but you’ll rarely see their names in the news.
From cases involving sexual abuse of children to physical abuse, the countless hours, months, even years investigating charges of abuse and neglect are not what make the news.
“All our work is confidential,” said licensed graduate social worker Sara Cohick, who is unable to share the details of her work with her husband and family.
“They just know when I have a big case coming up,” said Cohick, 28.
In fact, social workers tend to keep low profiles, aware that their work rarely generates friends. Instead, it can inflame already volatile family members and acquaintances, who see the social workers as working against them.
“A lot of people think of CPS (Child Protective Services) as a bad thing. Really, our goal is to keep children with their families. We get a bad rap,” Cohick said.
Cohick, a Washington County Department of Social Services social worker, was recognized in April by the Washington County State’s Attorney’s Office and Victim-Witness Unit, as well as the Washington County Board of Commissioners. She has worked at Safe Place, the county’s child advocacy center, since March 2009.
A press release from DSS said Washington County Circuit Judge Donald Beachley commended Cohick for doing “an outstanding job” during the interview with the young victim in the State vs. Charles Selby case.
The more than two-year multiagency investigation into child sexual abuse charges in that case led to a sentence of 180 years in prison for the defendant.
“This was a very serious case. Our agency as a whole, the state’s attorney’s office and state law enforcement were working on it for several years,” Cohick said.
Cohick, who worked on the case for two years, taking up where another social worker left off, was recognized for her forensic interviewing skills and the positive relationship she developed with the young victim before, during and after the trial.
“For my time here and college, I never saw a sentence this big. I never thought he’d be sentenced to 180 years,” said Cohick, who said she would like the case to set a precedent for future cases.
She said the child was abused from about age 6 for several years, until the abuser was sent to prison for 30 years on unrelated charges. The case was on hold until the victim was ready to share the details of the abuse, which didn’t happen until she was adopted and her identity was changed.
“It was one where you have to wait. This job is very frustrating. Sometimes a child’s not ready to disclose,” Cohick said.
She said it’s hard to accept credit because without something “horrific” happening to the victim, Cohick wouldn’t have been recognized.
“That child outshined me,” she said.
Cohick said interviews with victims can be as short as five minutes to more than an hour. In this case, the interview lasted 56 minutes, which she expected, since there were so many charges against the abuser.
“I want the public to see that just because he gets 180 years, it doesn’t mean the child is fine. That child is affected so deeply, every day is a struggle for her. Every day is a struggle for her adoptive parents. I think it’s important to note that it’s not over for her. She’s trapped in what she’s endured. It will take a lifetime of work. It doesn’t ever go away,” Cohick said.